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How to keep earning frequent flyer points while you're grounded

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Aussies love to travel. Research has found that the average Australian takes four international trips each year. Given the distance between Australia and the rest of the world, it's easy to clock up frequent flyer points with just a couple of flights to Europe or the US.

But the pandemic has spoilt everyone's overseas travel plans, at least for the foreseeable future. Some airlines are not looking to restart flights until mid-next year at the earliest. So what does this mean for your frequent flyer points and is it still worth trying to earn them in the interim?

Absolutely.

how to keep earning frequent flyer points while you're grounded

The caveat is that you don't spend money just for the sake of accumulating points. Think of them as the icing on the cake from the expenses you're planning to make anyway. Daniel Sciberras, managing editor at Point Hacks, a website with guides and tips on frequent flyer points, says there are a lot of ways you can earn frequent flyer points even when you're on the ground:

Everyday shopping

If you have signed up to the Woolworths Everyday Rewards loyalty program, you earn one Woolworths point for every $1 you spend at Big W, Woolworths, BWS and Caltex petrol stations.

Once you accumulate 2000 points on your card, you can convert it to 1000 Qantas points (if you have a Qantas Frequent Flyer account). If you haven't done so yet, make sure you link your Qantas Frequent Flyer Membership number to your card by updating the 'cards & accounts' tab next time you log in to your account on everydayrewards.com.au.

Food delivery 

Earn points when you order takeaway. Menulog has a partnership with Velocity Frequent Flyer while Uber Eats allow members to convert 750 Uber Rewards to 200 Qantas points.

Use the Qantas or Virgin online stores

If you are planning to shell out a few hundred bucks or more on big-ticket items, household appliances or electrical goods, it may be worth purchasing them through the online stores of Qantas or Velocity.

You won't get the benefits of any in-store discounts but you do earn the points (as long as you're happy to take the tourist route, which is a few keyboard clicks starting from the Qantas or Velocity portal, which then directs you to their partner retailers).

What's new

This week, buy now, pay later program Afterpay is offering 500 Qantas Frequent Flyer points to new customers (existing customers earn one point for every dollar but only when they've spent $1000 while this deal is on offer).

Also this week, Qantas partnered with wealth manager La Trobe Financial, giving their frequent flyer members a chance to earn 250 Qantas points for every $1000 invested in La Trobe Financial's 12 Month Term account.

Sciberras says frequent flyer programs have long partnered with financial providers like home loan lenders and credit card issuers. "We have seen offers for 200,000 points on some home loan products and, more recently, a credit card which gives 75,000 points for the first year," he says.

This makes the La Trobe Financial 12 Month Term account a financial product with a difference because it's earning interest as opposed to costing interest.

"But as valuable as those points are, you want to make sure that whatever financial services products you're choosing over other products are meeting your needs."

"It's no good if the cost of getting the points is higher fees or higher interest rates," he says.

Sciberras predicts that frequent flyer programs might soon be available to local and regional businesses.

Depending on the advances in blockchain technology, your local cafe or mechanic might be able to link up with major frequent flyer programs. "In the past, you had to be a 'frequent flyer' to be part of the program but now you can literally earn points every time you spend," he says.

For those who don't own a car, Velocity has just partnered with Flexicar, where members can earn two points per dollar spent on all Flexicar bookings.

Future of points redemption

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia have had to introduce some additional perks to make up for the government-sanctioned travel restrictions and the temporary halt in redemptions (when everyone feared the worst and started redeeming their points in droves).

Velocity now has a website dedicated to on-the-ground offers if members aren't planning any domestic travel.

And from now until September 20, they are running a bonus Points offer, where members can receive 20% bonus Velocity Points on transfers from other reward programs.

Members can transfer their reward points from American Express Membership Rewards, NAB Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, ALL-Accor Live Limitless, IHG Rewards Club, Shangri-La's Golden Circle or Choice Privileges.

Meanwhile, members who are considering domestic travel should check out whether they can redeem points for upgrades. Some travel seats around Australia and New Zealand, normally not allocated for frequent flyer points redemption, have now been made available for the rest of the year while Qantas regular flyers will be given one-off status credits to maintain their Silver (and above) memberships.

Are frequent flyer programs here to stay?

Qantas has 13 million members while Velocity has more than 10 million members. What's important, according to Sciberras, is that these are highly engaged members who bring in revenue (through the partnerships with the retailers), so it is in Qantas and Velocity's best interests to make sure their programs thrive, even during a lockdown.

(It's worth noting that Virgin's Velocity frequent flyers have been unable to redeem points for products since the airline went into voluntary administration on April 21.)

As a general rule of thumb, any expense where you get a point or more per dollar is a good exchange, said Sciberras. Any less than that and you have to make sure you still get a good deal even without the points. For more than two points per dollar, you also have to make sure you're not overpaying just because of the points.

Final tip: when in doubt, make sure your Qantas and Velocity membership numbers (if you have both) are linked to all the online retailers you use that offer frequent flyer points to make sure you earn your rewards.

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Michelle Baltazar is editor-in-chief of Money magazine and an award-winning journalist, editor and publisher. She has worked at media companies including BRW, Shares Magazine (London) and industry newspaper Financial Standard, and has written about superannuation, wealth management, investment technology and financial advice.
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